Business Briefs: March 2019

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Michael Sever inspects cacao beans for any flaws. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Chocolate Handmade in Crozet Kitchen

It’s a long and painstaking process to transform chocolate from a bean to a bar, and Michael Sever of Crozet is familiar with every step. From his home in Wickham Pond, he painstakingly creates “Wild Blue” chocolate from earthy cacao beans and pure maple sugar. Some bars also have well-chosen additions like dried raspberries or blueberries, salt and pepper, or espresso beans. Sever imports the beans — already fermented and packed in burlap bags––from farms he’s personally verified are sustainable and organic, currently mostly from Belize. After roasting them in the oven of the family stove, he uses a bean cracker that also separates the shell. It’s the first of a couple of ingenious gadgets that attest to human resourcefulness. Once the beans are hulled, Sever scrutinizes each one for flaws or damage. The nibs that qualify go into a specially designed grinder, using stone wheels to crush the shards into a creamy liquor.

Wild Blue Chocolates are 70 percent chocolate, 30 percent maple sugar. Photo: Theresa Curry.

After a day or so of grinding, Sever adds the maple sugar, using a ratio of 30 percent maple sugar to 70 percent chocolate. The grinding continues for a couple more days. It not only transforms and breaks down the fat in the nibs, he said, it also removes the latent acidity of the beans. He then tempers the chocolate liquor (a step necessary to form it into a solid, dark bar that cleanly breaks) and adds dried fruit, spices or coffee beans. What’s never added: extra cocoa butter or other fat, emulsifiers, preservatives, corn syrup or milk products.

The beans are fermented before they arrive in Crozet. Photo: Theresa Curry.

While other entrepreneurs may have an eye on growth, Sever has spent many years hoping to become small. He’s a seasoned chocolate expert and worked with Hershey all over the world, learning every part of the business from visiting tropical plantations to large-scale manufacturing of chocolate products. He worked with Hershey acquisition Scharffen Berger Chocolate, a small firm that made its own chocolate from beans. His last assignment took him to the Hershey plant over the mountain in Stuarts Draft. “We settled in Crozet and just fell in love with this area,” he said. When it came time to be reassigned, he and his family decided to stay put instead, and the fledgling “Wild Blue” was born.

After shelling, the cacao nibs are ready for grinding. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Sever loved his season at the Crozet Farmers Market last year and will be there again once it opens. He’s working with local shops on a retail outlet and also has a number of intriguing ideas about collaborating with local breweries, distilleries and wineries to introduce a note of pure chocolate into their liquid products. Meanwhile, Wild Blue Chocolate can be ordered online at www.wildbluechocolate.com, and followed at Instagram at instagram.com/wildbluechocolate.

Rocket Coffee Welcomes Lovingston Winery, Hank’s Grille

Later this month, fans of coffee and wine can find both at Rocket Coffee, an independently owned coffee shop at Rt. 250 and Crozet Avenue. Lovingston Winery is opening a tasting room there and will also serve wine by the glass and bottle as well as accommodating larger orders. Stephanie Wright, whose family owns the small wine operation, said the heavily traveled location of Rocket Coffee will introduce more customers to the four carefully made varietals and one blended wine produced by the vineyard. 

Wright, who serves as business manager and assistant winemaker for Lovingston, said the new location in Rocket’s spare room will have a calm, relaxed atmosphere with additional seating outside when weather permits. Plans are presently to be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday for on and off-site sales. “We’ll learn as we go,” she said. 

Stephanie Wright from Lovingston Winery. Photo: Theresa Curry.

The tasting room will operate under the license of the winery, which simplifies things for the new operation, Wright said. It’s a symbiotic relationship, Wright acknowledged: people who may feel intimidated by traveling to a winery or who don’t want to invest the time it takes to schedule a trip will be in familiar surroundings in a coffee shop. Rocket proprietor Scott Link said it’s also a good thing for groups of friends. “There’s always a shortage of choices for people who don’t drink wine,” he said. “This way, there will be plenty to choose from.”

Link said the tasting room is a good use of the extra space in Rocket. There’s other news at Rocket, he said. In addition to Albemarle Baking Company pastries, H & H bagels and sandwiches, soups and desserts from the shop’s own kitchen, Rocket’s patrons will be introduced to the down-home cuisine of the Valley’s legendary Hank’s Grille. The award-winning barbecue purveyors began dispensing wood-smoked meats, sandwiches and sides, including breakfast sandwiches, at Rocket last week.

Rocket will soon have its own beer and wine license. The coffee shop, which presently closes at 5:30, will stay open a little later to conform to the tasting room’s hours. 

For updates, visit the Rocket Coffee Facebook page or www.rocketcoffee.us.

Dr. Phillips Joins Local Group

Steven Phillips, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, is joining Aligned Clinical and Educational Services (ACES) in Clover Lawn in Crozet. Dr. Phillips, an osteopathic doctor, completed his adult psychiatry training at the University of Virginia, where he taught and trained junior residents. He has published a comprehensive review of available drug-based and other treatments for ADHD.

Dr. Steven Phillips. Submitted photo.

His specialty is child and adolescent psychiatry, including diagnosing, managing medication, psychotherapy and testing for ADHD, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, OCD, and autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Phillips is completing his fellowship as chief fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at U.Va. He’ll begin work part time at ACES in April and full-time in July. For information, or to make an appointment, call 434-466-1588.

Homegrown Recycling Business to Serve Old Trail

It was an idea that immediately made sense to everyone. When Old Trail discontinued its recycling option, Western High School junior Charlie Weyher and his business partner, Carter Shifflett, offered to pick up sorted recycling and transport it to the McIntire Recycling Center. With the support of his family, Weyher introduced the service, OTV Recycling, on Next Door, the community’s online bulletin board, and got an immediate and very enthusiastic response.

Charlie Weyher collects recycling in Old Trail. Photo: Theresa Curry.

“Starting the business helped me learn more about different ways I can become more eco-friendly,” Weyher said. He asks his customers to separate their recycling into smaller categories rather than mixing it, a step that helps protect it from contamination. He collects on Sundays, transferring the separated trash to bins in his van, and estimates he’ll make pickups from 20 to 25 homes on each run, at a cost of $10 per pickup. Some homes will have twice a month service, he said; smaller homes will need just one pick up per month. OTV gives detailed instructions to its patrons in hopes that everything will be properly sorted. On his first run the last Sunday of February, Weyher said his customers did well, with only a few mis-sorted items.

For now, OTV focuses only on the Old Trail community, but Weyher says he’s pondering expansion in the future. To reach OTV Recycling, email [email protected]

Morsel Compass Features Guest Chef, Delivery

Sammer Handa has popped up in the kitchen of Morsel Compass at Piedmont Place a couple of times, offering a new take on the fresh tacos, paninis, quesadillas, flatbreads, soups, sides and salads. Handa made a couple of batches of chicken Tikka Masala, said Keely Hass of Morsel Compass. Both times, his creations have sold out. “We’re contemplating other guest chefs, too,” Hass said.

Sammer Handa prepares chicken Tikka Masala at Morsel Compass. Submitted photo.

The popular Morsel Compass menu, based on flavors found around the world, is available for delivery through Grubhub for several hours in the evening, Hass said, at least for most of the menu items. For questions about delivery, which costs about $3, call Morsel Compass at 434-989-1569, or just use the Grubhub app. Hass said delivery is set at 45 minutes, but she expects the time to grow shorter as more local drivers sign up. 

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